I understand that the J Street Project, which was launched officially only one month ago, is gathering supporters at a pretty good clip, and now its efforts to redefine what can be considered “pro-Israel” appear to be making some headway, at least in the two of this country’s most influential daily newspapers. Last week, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s founder and director, published a strong essay in the “Outlook” section of the Washington Post entitled “Myths on Who’s Really Pro-Israel.” And Sunday’s “Week in Review” section in the New York Times provided two offerings that raised precisely the same question, the first by Tom Friedman, entitled “Obama and the Jews”, and a much more powerful piece by Atlantic correspondent and New Yorker contributor Jeffrey Goldberg whose partiality toward Israel was made clear, among other things, by his service in its army. Goldberg’s piece is a passionate indictment of the major national Jewish organizations, particularly the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and AIPAC, essentially for confusing being pro-Israel with being pro-settlement, or, in his words:
“So why won’t American leaders push Israel [toward dismantling the settlements] publicly? Or, more to the point, why do presidential candidates dance so delicately around this question? The answer is obvious: the leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself. …
“The people of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents are well meaning, and their work in strengthening the overall relationship between America and Israel has ensured them a place in the world to come. But what’s needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel.”
While, unfortunately, neither Goldberg, whose recent interview of Barack Obama no doubt helped inspire his Times op-ed, nor Friedman mentioned J Street in their articles, their arguments are entirely consistent with the new group’s mission, and are indicative, I believe, of a growing ferment within the Jewish community over whether its Likud-leaning organized leadership is really promoting Israel’s best interests and the chances of its long-term survival. (I think the growing media attention to key backers, such as Sheldon Adelson, of the Republican Jewish Coalition and Freedom’s Watch, is contributing to this ferment.)
Now that both the Post and the Times have seen fit to publish essays that argue persuasively that the phrase “pro-Israel” that have reflexively attached to groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents and even the far-right Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), perhaps they will employ the phrase more judiciously in their news reporting. Or is that too much to hope for?